GOP Chair Reince Priebus has released his party’s “ Principles for American Renewal .” By coincidence, Grover Norquist, longtime political activist and president of Americans for Tax Reform, penned a piece entitled “ Beyond Rand Paul: The Libertarians Are Coming !”
/p>The Principles might contribute in some minor way to the Republican’s chances of taking the Senate in 2014. But Norquist’s insights not only could help the GOP gain long-term political dominance but also could lead to a true renewal of American freedom.
General to specific
Flashback to 1994. House Republican leaders put together the “Contract with America” to contrast their positions with those of President Clinton, offering specific proposals to address general problems.
For “Job Creation” it called for a cost-benefit analysis for potentially employment-killing federal regulations. For "Legal Reform” it called for a “losers pay” rule to reduce nuisance law suits. For “American Dream Restoration” it sought a higher child tax credit.
The Contract helped focus Republicans in the 1992 election and no doubt helped them win control of the House for the first time in some four decades.
Principles or sound bites?
While winning elections is the aim of the new GOP Principles, the similarity with the Contract pretty much ends there.
Under “Economy” in the Principles we find “Start growing America’s economy instead of Washington’s economy so that hard-working Americans see better wages and more opportunity.” Under “Constitution” we’re told it “should be preserved, valued and honored.” And under “Poverty” we find “The best anti-poverty program is a strong family and a good job.” Nothing wrong with these, but they’re more like sound bites, albeit goods ones, offering few specifics.
On the controversial issue of “Values” we’re told “Our country should value the traditions of family, life, religious liberty, and hard work.” (Should have mentioned cute puppies as well.) And for hot-button “Immigration” we’re told we need a system “that secures our borders, upholds the law, and boosts our economy.”
This weak consensus is the best the GOP can offer because it is currently engaged in a three-way civil war.
Establishment Republicans simply want to tweak the welfare state to make it run a bit better. Extreme social conservatives give priority to a liberty-limiting agenda, for example, opposing same-sex unions. And limited-government and libertarian-leaning Republicans, including many social conservatives, give priority to rolling back the welfare state and restoring individual autonomy.
So the Principles must be generic to avoid offending any faction.
Four freedoms trending
And here’s where Grover Norquist comes in. For decades he’s touted a “Leave Us Alone” coalition of economic and social conservatives. To that end he runs weekly “Big tent” meetings in D.C.: a kind of bulletin board for center-right groups, a model now reproduced in most states. Norquist has always been a uniter, not a divider.
But Norquist’s latest piece affirms his place in the freedom faction, both challenging the agendas of the extreme social conservative and establishment Republicans while inviting them, in their own best interests, to join the liberty camp.
On school choice, Norquist observes that “Thirty years ago home schooling was illegal in all 50 states.” Today 10 million have been home schooled, a growing trend. All GOP factions should celebrate this.
On Gay marriage, he offers that “Thirty years ago there were laws actually criminalizing gays.” Today, legal and public opinion have shifted and gay marriage is spreading. But some protest that individuals should not be forced by government to cater or officiate at gay weddings if it’s against their religion. Norquist says the “team that frames its side as ‘defending and expanding liberty’ will win.”
On the Second Amendment, Norquist notes that “Thirty years ago, 80 percent of Americans supported stricter gun control laws. … Today, 41 states have enacted concealed carry laws.” Surely all factions can agree on this one.
And finally, on drugs he reminds us that “Thirty years ago, marijuana was illegal as medicine or even as a ‘recreational use’ drug in 50 states. Today, 21 states allow the use of medical marijuana,” with Colorado and Washington legalizing all sales. Not a user? Norquist argues you should welcome the “Right to Try” trend. Some states are allowing individuals to treat their illnesses with medicines approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe but not certified as “effective,” the part of the process that delays new cures and life-saving products for years.
Embrace the free future
The GOP might chalk up important victories in upcoming elections, more because of President Obama’s failures than because of its Principles statement. But in the long run, the only way the GOP can stop its death spiral as its ranks decline and younger voters, minorities, and new entrepreneurs drift toward the Democrats, is to embrace a bold liberty agenda that will truly lead to American renewal!
Hudgins is director of advocacy at The Atlas Society and editor of the new book The Republican Party’s Civil War: Will Freedom Win?
For further information:
*Edward Hudgins, “ Michigan, Georgia pols show the fork in the GOP's road .” August 12, 2014.
*Edward Hudgins, “ Rand Paul Revolution in Silicon Valley. ” July 25, 2014.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.